US State Department Releases Annual Report on Religious Freedom

Secretary of State Clinton Expresses Concern Over Deteriorating of Rights

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By Junno Arocho

WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 1, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The US State Department released its annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2011 on Tuesday, stating that religious freedom in the world is becoming seriously hampered. 

In a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over pressure laid on faith communities. "Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that pressure is rising," she said. 

"So when it comes to this human right, this key feature of stable, secure, peaceful societies, the world is sliding backwards."

China was among the countries the annual report noted where a deterioration of religious freedom occurred. The report noted increased repression of Tibetan Buddhists and any religious group not affiliated with the five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations (Taoist, Buddhist, Muslim, Protestant and Roman Catholic). Protestant groups unaffiliated with the patriotic religious association and Catholics that are loyal to the Vatican are not permitted to apply as legal entities. 

"It’s particularly urgent that we highlight religious freedom, because when we consider the global picture and ask whether religious freedom is expanding or shrinking, the answer is sobering. More than a billion people live under governments that systematically suppress religious freedom," Clinton said.

"New technologies have given repressive governments additional tools for cracking down on religious expression. Members of faith communities that have long been under pressure report that the pressure is rising. Even some countries that are making progress on expanding political freedom are frozen in place when it comes to religious freedom."

Other countries causing concern were Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. The report also noted a global rise in anti-Semitism, as well as the increased use of anti-blasphemy laws to restrict the rights of religious minorities. 

Clinton also highlighted that while some countries are transitioning to democracy, there still exists a struggle with religious freedom. The secretary of state spoke of a recent trip to Egypt, where local Christians are concerned for their future. "I had a very emotional, very personal conversation with Christians who are deeply anxious about what the future holds for them and their country. What Egypt and other countries decide will have a major impact on the lives of their people and will go a long way toward determining whether these countries are able to achieve true democracy."